January 2009

January 2009


You may be like millions of others who do not feel as wealthy as you felt 12 months ago. My wife Bobby and I can relate to that. Like you, we've seen our retirement accounts and investments lose a big chunk of their value and the equity in our home drop. There is no doubt that the foundations of the national and global economies are wobbly.

As we begin a new year that may bring financial, relational and health challenges, let me share the most important lesson that Bobby and I learned early in our marriage. It has been the cornerstone for our family's stewardship for 38 years. It has made our 18 year journey with Advocates International possible - a journey that began on my first visit to Moscow on January 16, 1991 - the day the Persian Gulf War began.

A Great Life: When we got married on February 27, 1971 we had it all. I was an associate with a fine Los Angeles law firm engaged in antitrust litigation representing clients such as Ford, American Airlines and AIG. Bobby was an occupational therapist with Los Angeles County Crippled Children's Service. I had a new VW Beetle; she had a Toyota. We pooled our small savings to buy an 800 square-foot house in Sherman Oaks and closed escrow a few weeks before our wedding. Everything was going our way. We were Yuppies!!

A Shocking Discovery: But two months after our honeymoon, things changed radically. Bobby started feeling poorly. She went to several GPs who sent her to specialists and neurologists at UCLA Medical Center. The symptoms pointed to a terminal neurological disease that had taken the life of billionaire Aristotle Onassis, Jacquie O's second husband. There was no cure. When you realize two months after your wedding that your bride may not live more than 18 months, God gets your attention. We were both Christians and had just started going to Grace Community Church where John MacArthur served as Pastor-Teacher.

The Wrong Perspective: For several weeks we wrestled with "What's going on, God? This is not the script that we were planning on. Why us? Why now?" As we began to study The Book, we soon discovered that our perspective on stewardship, ownership and guardianship were way off target. I thought that Bobby was "My wife!" She was MINE! I was HERS. The VW was mine. The Toyota was hers. The house was ours. It was all mine, mine, mine, hers, hers, hers, ours, ours, ours.

Never Owner, Always Steward: We were wrong, wrong, wrong! The Book is clear: everything belongs to God! "The world is mine, and all that is in it." Psalm 50:12 Although we knew that in theory, we failed to understand the practical implications of "never owner, always steward." First, if you don't own it, you can't lose it. You only lose what you think is yours. Second, if you don't own it, you are free to share it, give it away, lend it or leave it. You'll not be possessed by your possessions. Third, if you don't own it, someone does and you are accountable to The Owner. You will be very careful as to how you use The Owner's resources. We are stewards of time and talent, guardians of family and
relationships, and trustees of stuff and money. The apostle Paul wrote "it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove to be faithful." I Cor. 4:2

Giving it Back to the Owner: After this truth hit home, Bobby and I sat down one evening and began to give it all back to The Owner. We gave each other back, our families, our careers, our cars, and the house. Everything belongs to The Owner. Jesus found no middle ground in his teaching that discipleship means 100%: "Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:33

One Reason Why: After living with the possibly terminal diagnosis for eight weeks, we were told that Bobby did not have a terminal disease. We did cartwheels of joy! We needed a little break and decided to visit her folks in Virginia who did not know what we had been wrestling with. When Bobby called, her mother told her that they had just discovered that Bobby's dad had a brain tumor the size of a baseball and would undergo surgery in a few days. When we heard this, we understood why God had put us through The Stewardship School. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 We flew to Virginia to support her family with a new understanding of stewardship. Her dad lived 32 more years! Bobby and I will celebrate our 38th Anniversary next month. I thank God daily that he allows me to be her guardian.

The Application: One application of "never owner, always steward" was our decision not to allow our income to drive our lifestyle but to live modestly. Bobby's wise stewardship and small home-based businesses for 30 years have often provided the capital and income to carry the load when my stream shrinks or dries up. She enabled me to serve at Grace Church as the Executive Pastor for four years in the 1970s, at Christian Legal Society in the 1980s and with Advocates International for 18 years. We have reinvested a good portion of our Advocates' take-home pay back to the ministry that belongs 100% to The Owner.

Conclusion: Bobby and I have had many challenges during our 38 years together, including my bladder and lung cancer journey that began in 1999 and is ongoing. We thank God for the lessons we learned in 1971 when we thought that our wonderful life together might be cut short. We thank God that he taught us the principle of "never owner, always steward" early in our life together. It has made all the difference. It has made life incredibly rewarding, adventurous and faith-building. We have seen the hundred-fold returns in countless daily blessings that Jesus promised.

Our prayer is that the lessons of "never owner, always steward" may become a reality in your life as you hold all things faithfully in trust for The True Owner, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, Sustainer and Friend. Thank you, Jesus!



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